This was an interesting fleche. My second in 2 years. Like all rides, it had ups and downs. However, I only got onto a team 1 week before the start. I had never ridden with 4 of my 5 team members and though I have been on a 200k perm riding with RBA Rob; riding overnight with someone is quite different. The riders on the tandem, Bob and Lisa, were new to randonneuring and were making a mileage leap from a 200k to almost a 400k (and forming the team appears to have been their idea in the first place). Dave was also making a 200 to 400k leap. Bill is a solid rider, but had his own set of "interesting" issues.
As for me, since I missed most of April, had just really gotten over the pneumonia and had just broken a rib doing something I can't even recall, and the route had 100 miles of gravel bike trails, I decided that this was just not enough challenge so I decided to do it on my single speed that I bought when I was 13 years old. I decided on a 50x18 since I had those gears and Rob assured me that there was almost no climbing on the route, in fact less than 1000'. Did I mention that all my training last week left me with a bad case of saddle sores too? They just finished healing in time, but I was still on antibiotics.
So we started from Rob's house at 6:00 pm. I had to be re-introduced to everyone since I just could not put names and faces with so many I didn't know well. The wind was screaming out of the south at 20 mph and of course the first 110 miles were pretty much south (okay some west too). The wind never subsided either, even during the night. But it was a fabulous night to ride, perfect temperature. I had an awsome run from Red Wing to Lake City.
Dave was having some kind of issue the first night, and kept dropping back (I later learned he likes to do that). Rob eventually gave him a bunch of anti-fatigue capsules. We stopped pretty much on time at our 2 hour layover in Winona on time. I was really tired and with only 2 hours, I goobled 2 bars just before we got there, tossed the bike in a conference room, whipped off my shorts and hit the bed without even taking off my reflective gear or socks. But I slept soundly for 1:40, took a lighting bath, put on a new set of shorts and inhaled breakfast in time to roll out at 2 hours. The others reported varying results, Rob got no sleep at all. Bob and Lisa slept fine, but didn't get much to eat. Dave took some more of Rob's magic stash and it was a beautiful morning.
We crossed the Winona bridge with about 10 mph wind just reving up. First issue was that Rob's route on the Great River bike trail was really rough. In fact, I would categorize it as more of a mountain biking trail, or maybe for goats. At one of the gates, Bob and Lisa (on a tandem), lost balance going around and Lisa rolled off the back of the bike, down an embankment and landed waist deep in a swamp. That has just got to be a first in my opinion. Dry clothes for exactly 40 minutes of the ride.
We then got lost due to the twisting nature of the trail and multiple intersections with bad gravel roads and other nasties. Finally, we found our way out and got on a road headed in the right direction. We were sort of pressing the schedule, but still okay. Then we came to a Y intersection (keep in mind that Rob refused to send a cue sheet to anyone on the team, all we could do was follow him). No clue which way to go. Then a car pulled up so Dave and I asked the driver which way to Trempeleau. "Easy, just go left and take a right in about a mile at the church, that's the main drag of town". Rob called back, "my GPS says we should go right". The driver said that would eventually get us there too, but that it would go through the park. She suggested that we could split up and race (hint, hint). She left and Rob insisted that we go right. Okay, the driver was right. The route through the park was pretty, but it included several miles of 12-15% grade hills. At one point, I was trying to climb by standing and gripping the bars like a barbell to force my foot down. The tandem had a hard time too. We eventually got to Trempeleau about 40 minutes behind schedule and found the trail again. By this time, the heat was starting and we had to peel layers. Rob made some comment about stripping everything off and I had to say "shorts stay on please, it's a fleche not a flash". Who else has such witty reparte after nearly blowing the quads off their legs? I am undecided whether Rob found this funny at this particular point in time.
The next 15 miles of the Great River Bike Trail was horrible to ride on. Grass was growing in the middle, it was unmaintained. At one point, I sunk into sand and thankfully avoided a major accident after recovering and then recovering again from suddenly running into the woods. I really felt for Lisa, I was on 28mm tires; she was on the back of a tandem which as you know, is where all the real bumps are. But we made it to LaCrosse finally and some food was really good. We also looked at a map since we still really didn't know exactly where we were.
The next miles were on better maintained trails and pretty much dead flat. Made the heat really something and having a 20 mph cross wind actually felt good. It was hard on the single speed to modulate speed downwards without hurting my knees so Bill and I were ahead. The Elroy Sparta Trail is considerably nicer than the Great River but the heat was in full force and much of it was either dead flat or slightly uphill as we climbled along the old railroad bed. For those who have not been on this trail, it has three historic railroad tunnels through the hills. The first is 1364 ft long and we had to turn on lights to even see. The termperature dropped like a rock down to about 55 which felt great with the heat. But it was also dripping with water and the hand hewn floor was quite slick. Of course, it was also full of pedestrians.
The heat and everything else really slowed Bob and Lisa, not getting enough breakfast probably didn't help. I swear, people live in fear of hills, but a long distance in the flats is no walk in the park, I'd rather do hills. By the time we got to Wilton, we were ready to eat. Of course, we didn't have much time for that and Rob was fretting that we would not finish by 6. The tandem was averaging about 10 mph; not that I was doing a whole lot better but a single speed is still a single speed.
Of course after Wilton, the terrain got easier with more long downhill sections that favored the tandem. Bob and Lisa picked up considerably and Dave had really come back too. Really, there is nothing quite like a tandem on a downhill. Rob did a massive sprint into Elroy after we ran into another team (one of whose members kept drafting off me, Rob gave him a speech later).
At Elroy, I got confused and thought we were doing a quick stop and assumed that Rob was still ahead. So I stopped for all of two minutes and went to meet him. Oops, I sat on the trail for about 10 minutes and finally turned back. Found everyone back at the control along with Gary Bakke, who was on another fleche team (same route for about 30 miles) and was having an absolutely miserable ride. That team apparently had bad rapport, incompatible riding styles and one member had already dropped out. He had decided to quit his team and just ride by himself (I eventually talked him into rejoining them).
Bill, at this point, had mechanical problems. His tire had blown off the rim and was out of true. However, his mechanic had supposedly just trued it the previous week. We had another tire, but it was pretty clear that the rim was the problem. Then his rear brake fell apart. 10 miles from the end, he was in that "I just want be alone" state.
We had a half hour to spend at the 25k mark and that was fun. Both teams were at the same place and we talked briefly. The other team then decided to demonstrate their manliness by passing our team. Okay, maybe it was because I really felt for Gary (who is a steady rider like myself) who had been driven crazy be teammates that keep sprinting and then fatiguing and stopping, maybe it was because I was having a great ride and was unimpressed by their testosterone fury. So I completely dusted them. I recall Rob saying something later to them like "So how does it feel to be dusted by a woman on a single speed?"
At Reedsburg, the two teams went different directions into the Dells. Which I think works much better. We got to experience about 3 miles of tail wind on the way into the Dells and were the second team in with about 15 minutes to spare. Much congratulations to everyone.
The other team got lost in the last 15 miles and despite Gary having lived in the area for years and knowing the way in, the other members would not listen to his advice and spent a bunch of time continuing to be lost. They only just barely made the cutoff.
There are several morals to this story.
1. If you are at a Y intersection and you want to go south and have to guess, take the direction that goes south, especially if a local tells you its the right way as well.
2. A fleche is about teamwork, you can have many different riding styles and bikes and everyone can still have their moments to shine (tandems cannon down hills, Rob still sprints better than any of us, single speeds kind of go one speed and no other, etc), but in the end, it's all about making sure you finish with your team mates and are willing to compromise in the small ways that make that happen.
The party at the end was really fun; I got lots of kudos for having the balls to ride a single speed 240 miles in the hills of Wisconsin (my best guess is that the ride had around 8-10,000 of climbing); that was good for my confidence which needed it after the Tombstone disaster. Since I had not been able to commit until very late, the block of rooms was no longer available and everything in the Dells except the $300 suites was sold out. So we had to leave immediately and skip the breakfast. Oh well, maybe next year.